Not new, but much improved
Maintenance at Horsethief Bench has improved its rideability
Spring has officially sprung here in the valley, and we know bike tourist season won’t be far behind. So before Horsethief Bench gets too crowded, get out there and check it out!
It’s one of the most iconic trails in the valley and, recently, has gotten some improvements that leave intact original lines but also add “B” routes. These improvements were implemented to prevent riders from creating their own routes and also to mitigate erosion.
Here’s the lowdown on one of our most popular valley trails:
Horsethief, part of the Kokopelli bike trail system near Loma, is labeled as an intermediate trail. It involves lots of rocky ledges and drops and has great views of the Colorado River. Even if intermediate riders have to walk some parts, they’ll ride enough of it to find enjoyable.
The trail branches off of Mary’s Loop and begins with a hike-a-bike for most people. Though the entrance is rideable by some, most will choose to walk down to the start of the singletrack. It is recommended that you ride Horsethief Bench clockwise, which is how this column will assume it’s being ridden. By encouraging all riders to take the trail in the same direction, there aren’t as many issues with user flow. Riders can bomb down the trail without fear that someone is going to be climbing it from the other direction.
Should we all still be on the lookout for slower riders, walkers, etc? Yes, we should. For the most part, though, you won’t encounter riders climbing the trail counterclockwise.
There are many features of Horsethief that make it enjoyable. The first that you’ll encounter is a large slickrock roller`, which is much easier to ride this than it is to walk down. It can seem intimidating at first, but if you turn and ride straight down the face of the roller and make sure to shift your weight over your pedals, you’ll be successful.
The series of drops down to the river views are also fun. There are a few different routes through the top portions and the last drop now includes a “B” line. You can still jump the drop there but, if you prefer, you can also roll down a newly installed ramp. Over the years, dirt has washed away from this spot, and the drop has gotten bigger. Because of that erosion, the drop became almost unrideable for anyone who couldn’t jump it.
To avoid riders creating their own B lines, and to mitigate the erosion, the ramp was installed recently by a terrific group of COPMOBA volunteers. It remains a really fun roller and still allows for riders to jump. I was out there recently and watched as several riders came through, jumped and kept right on going. Two others followed and rolled the ramp.
After this, the trail rolls along parallel to the river where there are drops, ledges, and views galore. When you make the turn away from the river, an advanced/expert section awaits at the start of the Dead Cow Wash. Work was done here to remove some cheater routes and add a ramp. Though the original line has been reconstructed slightly, it is still a challenging section of trail and there’s no shame in walking it. We’d much rather you walk sections like this if you can’t ride them than create your own ride around. When riders do that, they damage fragile soil and plant life.
After some fun ledges and a short climb, you’ll reach a flowing singletrack section through a wash. This part of the trail is right against red rock walls and provides meadow views that are stunning in their own way.
Finally, you’ll make one final climb back to the entrance. The hike out will be over before you know it.
There has been concern of late about trail maintenance and the idea that COPMOBA or the BLM are “sanitizing” the trails. I think Dave Withers of Desert Rat Tours explained the need for the Horsethief work best in a Facebook comment: “I completely understand resistance to change, but with the millions of riders and the 22 years of erosion on Horsethief bench, we definitely needed to do some maintenance.
“Rest assured that we did everything possible to leave the original technical lines as they were. Our entire goal to the current maintenance project was to minimize all of the alternate “cheater” lines that have appeared in the past few years as the original line had deteriorated too much for most riders. If anybody feels that they want more control of the trails that have been built and maintained by volunteers with tens of thousands of hours of work and hundreds of thousands of donated dollars, then I suggest that you show up to volunteer your time and let your voice be heard.”
Thanks to Anne Keller, Jody Winkler, Dave Withers and all the COPMOBA volunteers who took the time to make these improvements.
Now, let’s all GET OUT and do our part to keep singletrack single!